Cacoyannis, Michael

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Nationality: Greek. Born: Limassol, Cyprus, 11 June 1927. Education: Greek Gymnasium; Gray's Inn Law School, London, called to the Bar, 1948; Central School of Speech and Drama, London; Stage Directing course, Old Vic School, London. Career: Radio Producer for BBC and actor in London, early 1950s; returned to Greece and directed first film, Windfall in Athens, 1953; later directed stage productions in London and on Broadway. Lives in Greece. Awards: Grand Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival, 1962, for Electra.

Films as Director:


Windfall in Athens


Stella (+ sc)


A Girl in Black (+ sc)


The Final Lie (A Matter of Dignity) (+ sc)


Our Last Spring


The Wastrel (+ sc)


Electra (+ sc)


Zorba the Greek (+ sc, ed)


The Day the Fish Came Out (+ sc)


The Trojan Women (Women of Troy) (+ sc, ed)


Atilla 74 (doc) (+ ed)


Iphigenia (+ sc, ed)


Sweet Country (+ sc, ed)


Up, down, and Sideways (+ sc, ed)


Varya (+ sc, pr)


By CACOYANNIS: articles—

Interview with Pierre Billard, in Cinéma (Paris), February 1957.

Interview in Films and Filming (London), January 1960.

Films and Filming (London), June 1963.

Interview in Screen International (London), 13 May 1978.

Interview with James Potts, in Educational Broadcasting International, September 1978.

Interview with M. McDonald, in Bucknell Review, Spring 1991.

Interview with Lindsay Amos, in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), June 1998.


Schuster, Mel, The Contemporary Greek Cinema, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1979.

On CACOYANNIS: articles—

Stanbrook, Alan, "Rebel with a Cause," in Film (London), no. 24, 1960.

Bianco e Nero (Rome), December 1963.

"Michael Cacoyannis," in Film Dope (London), November 1974.

"Michael Cacoyannis," in International Film Guide 1976, edited by Peter Cowie, London, 1976.

National Film Theatre Booklet (London), April 1978.

Rivista del Cinematografo, May 1981.

* * *

A man between two worlds—this is how the life and work of Michael Cacoyannis could be characterized. The first world is one which draws on classical drama, his background in the modern theatre, and modern European cinema. The second world incorporates a mixture of the cultural knowledge acquired during his training in England with an inborn sense of the Greek tradition. This is the background from which Cacoyannis creates an original cinematographic depiction of contemporary life.

At the beginning of his career, Cacoyannis's inspiration came from the film classics as much as from his theatrical background; for his debut, Kyriakatiko ksypnéma, it is René Clair who appears to be his spiritual tutor. Cacoyannis's creative path then led from comedy to drama, to an analysis of the fragile nature of human relations. His stories, of Stella the singer, of the "girl in black" on the island of Hydros, or the story of the lost hopes of a broken family, are attempts to interpret contemporary Greek reality in a very raw way. The films capture the archaic rigidity of social relations and the feelings of loneliness. The random tragic moments in which city intellectuals as well as ordinary village people find themselves are milestones along their path to happiness. City streets, forgotten villages on lonely islands, and scorched foothills provide a suitably poignant backdrop for the fates of Cacoyannis's characters. It is said—with good reason—that early Cacoyannis films carry the spiritual heritage of Italian neo-realism.

These efforts culminated, through directly drawing upon literature, in the creation of a full-blooded renaissance figure, Alexis Zorba in Zorba the Greek—a portait of a man who lives (and loves) life to the full. The friendship of this "Man of Nature" with a young writer as shown in a confrontation of dramatically realistic (but also poetic) scenes, is the victory of the human spirit over convention. Also here in "sotto voce" is the pathos of sights and thoughts, a ghost-like echo of ancient Greek tragedy. This element of contemporary drama is expanded to incorporate classic Greek traditions. Using locations in Greece under a blazing sun, Cacoyannis reworks not only the story of Elektra, but from mythology picks the story of the Trojans in The Trojan Women, while in the grand scenery of olive groves he sets Euripides talking about the Princess in Iphigenia. Cacoyannis does all this in order to address, for a contemporary audience, the eternal question of crime and punishment, to show that evil among people ultimately produces only more evil. For him the ancient myths encapsulate eternal conflicts of the human soul. Thus is Michael Cacoyannis a poet of the modern Greek cinema.

—Vacláv Merhaut